A scoreless draw certainly doesn't scream rivalry.
The Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew played a mostly uneventful match Saturday as both teams struggled to find offensive rhythm. Columbus' struggles came because the Fire defended with five men in the back, making open space hard to find. The Fire's struggles came because they were without David Accam.
At this early stage in Fire coach Veljko Paunovic's tenure, the offense proved to be a one-trick pony. Without Accam, this offense does not move. It's hard for any offense to produce without its best player, but it is even harder when that system has only been practiced for a couple months and the players and coaches are still growing together.
Saturday served as a reality check that while fresh faces and new tactics can be cause for optimism, it also comes with growing pains.
The offense has progressively fizzled each week, scoring three goals, then one and now zero. The first game was littered with quality chances that were missed, the second game featured an offense handcuffed by a red card but Saturday's game was just a failure on the team to make up for one man's absence.
The good news is the defense is experiencing an inverse trend. The defense has gone from conceding four goals, to one and now zero. The communication between Matt Lampson and the backline seemed as good as it has ever been and the three center backs were all quality.
The real revelation was the rise of Rodrigo Ramos. The young Brazilian was staunch defensively, limiting crosses and he was very promising moving forward. I was not as harsh on Michael Harrington as some, but I don't think the coaching staff can sit Ramos after a performance like that.
Paunovic preaches playing to win, but Saturday seemed to be all about defending. Growing pains are expected, but there is a fine line between growing pains and becoming stagnant. The team has one point out of a possible six points at home. That will need to improve rather quickly.
Paunovic deserves time and a long leash to develop his vision. But fans also deserve better performances at home.
Player rankings will count down from XI to I with XI being the best. Subs often will not make the list, unless they are super duper awesome, in which case they might.
XI: Jonathan Campbell - I absolutely loved what I saw from Campbell Saturday. He played with the confidence and composure of a captain and was in perfect position all evening. Whether it was a key clearance or intercepting dangerous passes, Campbell controlled the center of the defense.
X: Rodrigo Ramos - Ramos had his coming out party, showing off the kind of speed that makes him dangerous going forward and difficult to beat defensively as he can recover. He tried one of his give-and-go combinations with Kennedy Igboananike and made a great run in the box that could have resulted in a penalty kick for some referees. Expect to see Ramos in the starting XI moving forward.
IX: Matt Polster - Saturday was more like it for the captain. He had a ton of responsibility with John Goossens and Arturo Alvarez both further up the field. He covered the center backs well all game and was critical in keeping Federico Higuain from finding his space. He had the kind of interception late in the game near the Crew box that reminded people why he is a national team prospect.
VIII: Joao Meira - It makes me very happy that I can finally say Meira had a great game. He had one play in particular where a cross to Kei Kamara would've likely ended in a goal, but Meira's perfect positioning spoiled the play at the last minute. He still had his shaky moment, heading a ball in the box to try to clear it but the ball barely made it over Lampson's net. Still a strong game and he even sauntered forward a couple times.
VII: Matt Lampson - He wasn't tested much but he made an incredible save on Ethan Finlay to preserve the draw. More importantly, his communication with the center backs seemed much better. He has his clean sheet now so the situation with Sean Johnson is getting much more serious. Some talks need to happen if they have not already.
VI: Johan Kappelhof - Not as good as Campbell or Meira but still came up with clearances and interceptions and looked more dangerous than the other two going forward. He had the shakiest of mistakes though when he driblled far too long in his own zone before passing back to Lampson who had Kamara looming dangerously close.
V: Brandon Vincent - He always shows the potential in a moment or two that reminds people why he is a national team prospect. But he also gets beat too often. He had another difficult matchup with Ethan Finlay, who drew a foul on Vincent in a dangerous area and then beat him to the endline for a chip that could have been dangerous if not for the center back play. Vincent still has all the tools, but it is going to take some time.
IV: John Goossens/Michael Stephens - I list them both because they played the same amount of time and were both fairly solid but definitely not spectacular. With the lack of pace from Accam's absence, both Goossens and Stephens seemed to struggle to connect on any forward pass to the flanks. They had vision, but few options.
III: Kennedy Igboananike - He still his Igboananike things like drawing a foul right outside the box for a free kick in a good area. But it gets tiresome talking about a Designated Player as giving good hustle. His effort is there but he gets paid a lot of money to produce and he just didn't create enough dangerous attempts Saturday. He did spring the first counterattack of the game.
II: Gilberto - He needs to score goals. Right now he is not doing much of that and Saturday he barely created chances. In past games, it was missed attempts. Saturday it was near invisibility. He had one shot that forced Steve Clark to hit the deck to get the ball, but that was about it.
I: Arturo Alvares - He had a rough one. Misplaced passes, turnovers and most frustratingly pretty poor corner kicks and free kicks. He moved to the central playmaking role in the second half but still couldn't get much going. I'm not ready to give up on Alvarez, who played extremely well against New York City FC, but this performance hurt.
What They Said
Paunovic on the team performance.
We did have some opportunities but still I believe the team performed very, very well. I'm very happy with what the team did today defensively. Obviously we always want to win but it was more difficult today but also we had a great opponent.
Hot Take: I have a hard time saying a team performed "very, very well" in a scoreless draw. And if playing a great opponent is going to be a reason for not winning, well, that could be an issue. Not sure if the club is aware, but literally every team was better than them last year. From that viewpoint, they will be playing lots of great opponents.
Matt Lampson on locking down the Columbus offense.
One of the biggest things that we harped on today was 'no cross, no goal.' They barely got any service to Kamara today; that was a huge coaching point that we had, and we locked him down. He hardly had any opportunities.
Hot Time: True that, Lamps. He also said confidence for a goalkeeper comes in playing games. Lampson is playing, Johnson is not. The goalkeeping issue remains a contentious issue among fans, but it seems to be clear for the club. Lampson is the starter folks.
Brandon Vincent on his U.S. Olympic qualifying call-up.
"I'm really excited, it's a huge honor and I'm really thankful for the opportunity. I had to focus on the game today first, and now I'm looking forward to representing our country and representing Chicago.
Hot Take: Best of luck to you and Matt! Get us into the Olympics.